Kindergartners in Andrew Wolf’s music class were skeptical of Santa.
“What’s your REAL name?” one asked.
“Where are your reindeer?” another chimed in.
Santa flashed a smile and answered curious youngsters at Janesville’s Wilson Elementary School.
Then his humble tenor voice joined the children in song, sweet song, as they rehearsed for a holiday program.
All the little voices trilled their best renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Chipmunk Song.”
As they sang, Santa’s eyes shined like evening stars behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
“Singing brings me joy,” Santa confided in an interview days before visiting the school.
This Christmas season, he combined his love of song with his love of Christ to become the Singing Santa, also known as Ray Jewell.
Jewell of Janesville appeared at a handful of venues in December, including the school.
“Ray came to us as a community volunteer,” said Principal Ashley Wright.
Jewell’s motivation was simple.
“I want to put the joy back in Christmas,” he said.
He worries that Christmas has become too much about buying things and less about the birth of Christ.
“How can the season be joyful when Black Friday begins at 4 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and you have to run out to get that special toy?” he asked. “Where is the family time at home?”
He patterned himself after St. Nicholas, the historical Christian bishop known for spending money to help the needy, sick and suffering and for leaving secret gifts.
“That’s more the kind of Santa we need,” Jewell insists. “Someone not caught up in the commercialization of the holiday.”
A recently retired minister, Jewell decided to fight materialism with kindness and carols.
He sings and sits with children at school for free. But he charges for private parties.
“I’ve never been motivated by money,” Jewell said. “We buy into what Madison Avenue throws at us. It creates a need where there is none. My only need is to care about my family and friends and the people around me.”
The 62-year-old calls himself a big kid who loves children, which made his transformation into Santa all the easier.
He wears a traditional red suit, sewn by his daughter, and a white beard, which he grew longer for the holidays.
The first time he grew a beard was as a senior in high school, when he played the butcher in “Fiddler on the Roof.” His dad made him shave the beard as soon as the play ended. But Jewell grew another one when he went off to Bible college and has had a beard much of his life.
Even without his red suit, even in July, children ask him if he is Santa. Sometimes he identifies himself as Santa’s brother.
Jewell, who calls himself an introvert, enjoys being in front of people.
“I’ve been singing in church since I was a child,” he explained. “I don’t know if I would have survived my strict upbringing if not for singing. That was my escape.”
His favorite carol is “Joy to the World,” and he insists it is not Christmas without singing “Oh, Holy Night.”
Once Jewell thought of singing professionally, “but then it would become a job,” he said. “I want to do it because I enjoy it.”
His Christmas message is simple:
“Find joy,” Jewell said. “Find Jesus because he is the only real joy. Everything else is artificial compared to having a relationship with Jesus.”
Tears filled his eyes.
“This isn’t about me,” Jewell added. “This is about Christ. He is the motivation for everything I do.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.